Interpret literally the five Chinese elements (water, earth, wood, metal, fire) and you may understand the attraction that Sìchuān has had for millennia. Sìchuān means ‘Four Rivers’ and the name pays tribute to that most essential element, water. Indeed, the ‘four’ are but the mightiest of the 1300-plus rivers roiling or sedately meandering across the southwest’s most expansive province and long dominating the ethos.
Underappreciating the land (‘earth’) here defies possibility; one can’t help but note the high quotient of set-in-Sìchuān poetry and shānshuǐ huā (‘mountain water painting’, a traditional Chinese form). Sìchuān is ensconced to the north, west, and south by sublime mountain ranges at once majestic and foreboding (and the reason why Sìchuān remained so isolated for so much of China’s history). In the west, the sparsely populated Tibetan plateau, birthplace of many ribbony waterways, pushes skyward with each kilometre. The rivers spill eastward into the Chuānxī plain of the preternaturally fecund Sìchuān basin, which supports one of the densest (and most diverse) populations on the planet (and filling a billion other mouths).
Ah, but fire may be the most esoteric. No volcanoes, but to toy with a metaphor, ‘fire’ here really means spice, as in hot (italics essential) peppers, the key ‘element’ of Sìchuān’s renowned flamethrower cuisine. The preponderance of peppers isn’t arbitrary; their spiciness is believed to help reduce a person’s internal dampness caused by high humidity and rainy weather.
Sìchuān destination guides
China's top 10 Sichuan teahouses
Nobody does tea better than the Chinese. And nowhere is China's tea culture better represented than in Sichuan province. But there seems to be more teahouses here than leaves in a cup of jasmine, so to help you decide which ones to visit, here are my top 10 Sichuan teahouses.
Encounter the essence of China in all its wonderful diversity—climb the Great Wall and stare down the Terracotta Warriors before heading down south on this 3-week tour of China's cultural and natural highlights.
Walk the Great Wall of China and trek through stunning Tiger Leaping Gorge. Stare down Terracotta Warriors and commune with giant pandas. For those seeking a unique adventure that balances China’s highlights with a look at its ‘wild’ side, this 3-week tour gives you the classics before taking you further afield to the hidden gems.
The inside info on China's ancient watchtowers
The ancient watchtowers of the Qiang people in western Sichuan are no secret; they're in the China Lonely Planet, for a start.